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Twitter Tuesday: Line combinations, depth and cable television

Plus, why Nichushkin? And the Avs’ most disappointing prospect

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Calgary Flames v Colorado Avalanche - Game Four Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

With Mikko Rantanen finally signed, sealed and delivered back to the Colorado Avalanche, I was pleased to not get any questions regarding the status of where Mikko is in this week’s Twitter Tuesday mailbag. There were some solid ones this week, let’s get started.

With Mikko back in the mix, let’s bracket some line combos, shall we?

With Rantanen back, the MGM Line has been reunited. The second line is something Colorado played with a lot in training camp and they looked very comfortable together. I think it stays that way. The third and fourth lines and guessing the 13th and 14th forwards are where it gets a bit trickier. Here’s my guess:

Landeskog — MacKinnon — Rantanen

Jost — Kadri — Donskoi

Wilson — Compher — Burakovsky

Nieto — Bellemare — Calvert



On the defense side of things, I think it goes a little something like this:

Girard — Johnson

Zadorov — Makar

Barberio — Rosen


IR: Cole

Leave your line combo predictions in the comments, I’d love to see what you all think.

The Avs have depth as deep as the Mariana Trench...

I think they’re fairly confident in the current duo, but there are probably some question marks there, too. Namely, is Pavel Francouz a legitimate back-up goaltender in the NHL.

Francouz was solid in the American League with the Colorado Eagles, posting a 27-17-3 record and a .918 save percentage in his first North-American pro season. He earned himself a call-up to Colorado and while he only appeared in two games in the NHL, he showed some flashes of brilliance in his brief cameo appearances. The Avs trusted him enough to name him the back-up to Phillip Grubauer for this season, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

I don’t think the organization will bring anyone else in, at least until we find out how Francouz handles the pressure of a back-up NHL role. If things go poorly, yes, I think Sakic seeks some outside help via trade or the waiver wire. On the note of depth, the Avs did make a minor league trade a few days ago, acquiring Antoine Bibeau from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for former second-round pick Nicolas Meloche. The team has plenty of depth — but how serviceable the depth is remains the question.

For a team that’s already very deep up and down the lineup, I found the Nichushkin signing to be a bit puzzling myself. I figured at the very least, he’ll provide some solid depth down in Loveland and potentially find his “deadly scoring touch” that got him draft 10th overall a few seasons ago. Yet, here we are on Oct. 1 and it appears Nichushkin has made this Avs 23-man roster.

He’s played big minutes in the preseason and while he wasn’t the most noticeable guy, he did his job and he did it fairly well. I’m not sure if Nuke will ever be the big scoring threat he was projected to be out of Russia in the 2013 draft, however, he has developed into a solid depth winger who is big and very solid in puck protection and is actually solid defensively. Scoring isn’t always the most important thing in the NHL, but the ability to get it up the ice and in the zone helps the whole team. That’s something Nichushkin is good for, and I think it’s the reason he’s sticking with the Avs. He’s shown he’s not afraid to block shots and his positioning is always where it needs to be. And if they can get 10-15 goals and 30-plus points from him this season, I chalk the signing up to a win.

And again, at the very least, he bolsters the Eagles lineup in Loveland if it doesn’t work out with the Avalanche at some point this season.

I’m not sure. As one of the final cuts from the Avs’ roster, Sakic, Bednar and the rest of the Avs staff have shown how highly they regard Bowers and his abilities, despite being just 20 years old. In short, yes, I could see him getting a call-up this season, much like Logan O’Connor did last season. I think he’ll get a few games in a fourth-line role if there’s an injury at forward. The Avs had six players scores their first career NHL goals this past season, the most since the 2010-11 year when the team had seven. All six of those first-timers were call-ups from the AHL to Denver. Colorado’s shown its not afraid to give the young guys a shot at some regular-season action, and I wouldn’t expect this season to be any different. In case of a call-up, Bowers is among the top of the list.

I expect a more confident Martin Kaut this season, at least he appeared that way during his extended exposure during the NHL preseason. I think Shane Bowers is poised for a breakout year for sure. I spoke with Eagles coach Greg Cronin after the first day of Eagles training camp and he said this of Bowers’ first year:

“It’s always interesting, I tell their agents and the coaches of these players that come out of college and even juniors, they think it’s real easy. You know, [they think] the American League isn’t a hard league and then they come in during that time of year (late March), when everyone’s fighting for playoff spots, it’s harder and then when they’re playing in the playoffs, it’s like ‘holy smokes, this is way harder than I thought.’ Well the best thing that happens is that it kind of humbles those guys. They start to think, ‘wow, I’ve got some work to do.’ I haven’t seen too many guys play well right away...Shane struggled with that.”

Bowers was very much thrown to the wolves when he turned pro and joined the Eagles in the thick of a playoff race in mid-March, after having just left the college game just days before. This season, however, now that he’s had time to settle into the pro life, Bowers is coming out of the woodwork and impressing everyone in Denver. Cronin said this of him during his first pre-season action with the Avalanche:

“He plays with a bit of an edge and he doesn’t change the way he’s playing and he skates, he sticks out because he’s a really, really good skater. He’s been able to convert that experience into having a little bit of a swagger in the NHL camp. I watched him closely — I was up [in Denver] until Sunday, I watched Sunday’s game (3-2 shootout win vs. the Wild) — and he is arguably one of the more visible players every time he plays the game.”

Bowers has adjusted very well, and very quickly, to the pro game and the entire organization is taking notice. He survived until the very last roster cuts were made, and I’d expect him to continue that momentum into Loveland. He’ll be the star center down there.

I’m not sure what to expect from Nick Henry. And I’m not sure Nick Henry knows what to expect either. We haven’t gotten to see much of him since he turned pro, but I think he gets a spot on a wing of one of the top two lines. We’ll see what he can do with that.

Of all of the players you mentioned, I’m actually most excited about Igor Shvyrev. I watched him a lot at Avs training camp and then at Eagles training camp and I think he’s looked great. He looks quicker this year and his shot is something else. He may have the hardest, quickest release on the Eagles roster and he may be the fastest, too. Although I’m sure T.J. Tynan will have something to say about that. I expect big things from Shvyrev this season.

With all that depth comes some disappointments, as well

This is an easy one for me: A.J. Greer.

In fact, both the Avs’ 2015 second-round draft picks have been a bit of a disappointment. Greer was taken 39th overall in ‘15, while defenseman Nicolas Meloche was taken with the very next pick. The latter was just traded away last week for an AHL depth goaltender while the former just can’t seem to make it in the NHL.

Greer has been given every opportunity to make it in the NHL with the Avalanche, it just hasn’t happened and I don’t think it will at this point. Even after the off-ice drama that happened with Greer in New York this offseason, the Avs still gave him one more year, an extension, following the events. He was again just mediocre in the preseason and was reassigned to the Eagles during last week’s cuts. I assume he’ll get some NHL call-up time — he always does — but will only serve as an interim injury replacement playing minimal minutes on the fourth line. That seems to be his role on this team.

Greer is due for another contract extension at the end of this season, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be here in Colorado.

The Avs will have some solid special teams this season

They say speed kills, and I truly believe the Avs will have one of the better special teams units in the NHL this season because of it. The PK improved mightily with the signings of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Joonas Donskoi. Matt Calvert is a workhorse on the PK unit, too. The penalty kill struggled a little last season and was among the bottom third of the league, however, I get the feeling the Avs penality kill will be top-10 at the very least this season.

I’m going to make a bold prediction here and say the Avs will also have a top-three power-play unit this season. Colorado’s power play has always been pretty potent. Last season, the team finished with the fourth-most power-play goals in the league with 63, converting on a solid 22 percent of their opportunities (seventh-best in the NHL). While the team struggled during the preseason (2-of-31, 6.5 percent, third-worst in the preseason), it is just preseason and none of those PP units are what they will be come opening night. The addition of Nazem Kadri is sure to make things even better, too.

The Great Altitude-Cable TV Conniption continues

No chance this deal gets done before the season begins, which is very unfortunate for us here in the local Denver market and the surrounding areas. We’ll be left to our own devices on finding a stream online. The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark spoke with Matt Hutchings, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment’s Executive EP and COO, who said there is no “good-faith dialogue” between Altitude and the big three cable companies:

“We’ve continued to be proactive in reaching back out and trying to bring different ideas and different options to the table,” said Matt Hutchings, who is KSE’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “And unfortunately, Comcast, Dish and Direct refuse to engage with us and have any good-faith dialogue at all. So the bottom line is there really is no update as of today...We did not come and ask for a huge increase. We even went back and offered to hold this next year flat, even. We’ve literally been trying to put forward a lot of different options and ideas and they basically keep coming back and saying, ‘Nope. There’s a deal. Take it. Or leave it.’”” (via The Athletic)

Sadness all around.

...And it’s not just Altitude that’s having an issue, it’s cable in general. This is cable’s last stand, this is the hill they want to die on before they know everyone who hasn’t already cut the cord, cuts the cord and goes to streaming anyway.

There doesn’t really appear to be an end in sight. All we can do at this point is hope...

More questions? Hit me up on Twitter @0ffScottFree and I’ll see you next Tuesday!